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The Weekend

The Weekend
Playwright: Sue Smith
Director: Sarah Goodes
Belvoir Street Theatre
August 5 – September 10, 2023

Sue Smith’s moving adaptation of Charlotte Wood’s bestselling novel, The Weekend, achieves success on two fronts. Firstly, it explores with wit and honesty, the “crone” phase of a woman’s life, and, secondly, it harvests the benefit of having three very talented older female actors as its cast.

Three women friends in their 70s are brought together to prepare the house of Sylvie, the fourth member of their former close friendship group, for sale following her death. As it is Christmas time, their gathering suggests they have no other commitments and, despite an initial half-hearted protest, it is apparent the task fills a gap when society at large is in a fervour of family celebrations.

The play’s action takes place on the deck of Sylvie’s coastal and semi-tropical home (set, Stephen Curtis), an illusion beautifully fostered by a subtle backdrop (Susie Henderson), lighting (Damien Cooper) and soundscape (Steve Francis). The women are introduced one at a time – if a little perfunctorily – establishing their characters. Jude (Tony Scanlan), a former manager of a successful restaurant, with business-like walk and no-nonsense outfit, who arrives first (of course) is the practical one. She speaks with some asperity on the phone to Wendy (Melita  Jurisic) whose older model car has broken down on a freeway and who eventually arrives, benign and bothered, with her elderly and incontinent dog. Last is the ageing actor, Adele (Belinda Giblin) in a jaunty hat and flimsy attire, who enters in a flurry of gestures and is set on going to the beach, which Jude will not permit.

An important fourth member of the party is Wendy’s dog, Finn, the creation of Indigo-Rose Redding and sensitively manipulated by puppeteer Kelia Terencio, in the very last and painful phase of his life, reflecting the circumstances of the human elderly and dependent. Suffering from Alzheimer’s and physically weakened, he is greeted with crude impatience by Jude, with occasional sentimentality by Adele, and his bodily lapses are vigorously defended by Wendy whose encompassing love is perhaps a heavy burden. He remembers pleasurably but distantly his heyday and when terrified he looks for other-worldly assurance but finds it in the warmth of friends.

The three friends have been very independent – career women with different goals – but ageing brings the challenges of maintaining a meaningful way of life when society ceases to value them as contributing individuals. So strong is the dismissal of the ageing that the ageing are flummoxed, like academic Wendy, who believes herself to be losing the capacity to grapple with her new project. Adele is desperate for a stage role but humiliated by a rising young director Joe (Roman Delo) who clearly doesn’t “see”  her, and Jude, who is deemed irrelevant at a very vulnerable moment. Over the weekend they confess to rejection, to regret and to personal loss, they lament but can laugh about physical decline – the need and acceptance of help to get up again – but it is harder for them to accept being dismissed, denied agency, erased.

Although not without its dramatic moments, The Weekend is deeply moving because its disclosures are low key, often almost tacit and often suggested through stage effects. The secrets are ordinary in a sense, familiar, and not flayed for their traumatic potential, but more poignant for being part of the texture of women’s lives. The actors do wonderful justice to the text as their silences speak powerfully and chart so clearly the points at which their sense of self is shattered by the judgement of society.

The conclusion is quietly compelling and beautiful in its simplicity and carried with conviction and hopefulness by these three amazing women. While standing ovations are so common – and meaningless these days – the emotional satisfaction of the audience was palpable and a greater confirmation of the power of the performance to touch the day-to-day reality of our lives.

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